No time for Sapa? How about trip to Mai Chau's ethnic minority villages?!
A few hours away from Hanoi a deep, lush valley is home to ethnic Thai and other miniority people who settled here hundreds of years ago. Several of Mai Chau's ethnic minority villages are filled with traditional houses on stilts. The narrow lanes of the most-visited villages are filled with the kind of colorful handicrafts items that appeal to tourists. We also take time to visit less-spoiled villages, including one that specializes in the production of bamboo toothpicks (really!) where you can still imagine what life was like here fifty years ago. You can make this trip in one long day, or stay overnight on the floor of a local stilt house. How many people back home have ever done that?
Full Day Excursion
Depart Hanoi after an early breakfast for Hoa Binh, a pretty hamlet at the foot of the mountains you will soon traverse. After a coffee break you drive on to Mai Chau. The high mountain road offers some spectacular scenery. If you like, you can stop at one of the roadside stands for local fruit and a look at some of the exotic plants that locals gather in the forest and sell along the road. Before long you arrive at a bend in the road that offers your first glimpse of the emerald Mai Chau valley below. Wow!
The first stop in the valley is a small ethnic minority village of houses on stilts. We park outside because the streets are barely wide enough for pedestrians. The center of the village is an emporium of brightly colored souvenirs designed to mesmerize tourists. But if you and your guide venture into the outskirts of the village you will have glimpses of local village life... pig pens, vegetables growing in rich, dark soil, and children playing, and the fantastic collision of aromas that can only be found in the countryside.
Your home-cooked lunch today is in a traditional stilt house that still recognizes the tradition of no shoes and no furniture (except some cushions). Your guide joins you, of course, to share some of the lore of this odd little valley. Then it is on to explore one or two of the less-touristy villages in the valley before returning to Hanoi, arriving at about 20:00.
You might feel like a nap after lunch. You can be as lazy as you like. You and your guide also have time to explore the valley more leisurely in the afternoon and stay the night on comfortable cushions on the floor of an old wooden still house. Tonight you will have a splendid dinner of traditional local fare along with a cultural performance.
Tonight you stay in the "toothpick village," a small and remarkably simple hamlet that surrounds something like a local well where it is not uncommon for local folk to bathe.
More local explorations in the morning before you return to Hanoi, arriving mid-afternoon. Breakfast and lunch are included.